Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Day The Crossword Puzzles Stopped

One of my earliest recollections of my father is looking up at him at the kitchen table working his daily crossword puzzle. It was a daily routine that never varied over the entire time I was growing up and living at home. Even later visits at Mom and Dad’s home or at mine always included that somber ritual, around which all other schedules for the day revolved.

I am sure dad learned it from his father, who worked his puzzles while perched on his high-legged stool at a check in counter at the pool hall he ran for years.

Actually, crossword puzzles were a new thing back in my grandfather’s day. The first known published crossword puzzle was created by a journalist named Arthur Wynne from Liverpool, and he is usually credited as the inventor of the popular word game. December 21, 1913 was the date and it appeared in a Sunday newspaper, the New York World.

One of the last to enter the world of crossword obsession was the New York Times, which first published a Sunday puzzle in 1942 and a daily puzzle in 1950. I am convinced that both my father and my grandfather did them both in ink. The Daily News followed along with the trend, but the Times was always the true standard

Crossword puzzles are a family addiction. I was doing the daily puzzles in the break room at the ACME supermarket where I worked throughout high school. My sister, Nan, and I fought over the rare un-inked crossword that we would come across at home, and we often brought spares home from discarded newspapers we hunted for during the day.

These last few years I had a crossword puzzle routine that included my daily newspaper, USA Today, NY Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune and any other I would stumble upon. No Airline magazine puzzle went undone on my shift. It was also required by my DNA that all crosswords were done in ink.

My father lost his sight to Macular Degeneration and in the years that followed until his passing away, mom would read the NY Times Crossword clues to him and he would give her the answers to write in, still always in ink.

Until my sister passed away, her own puzzle book and pen at her bedside, we would go out to dad’s memorial site with mom, have lunch and do a puzzle for dad.

Now it has stopped. Oh, my son, Jeff still carries on the tradition, but one day it just ended for me. Maybe it is just my age, I can’t explain it. It is just over.

Sometime around the beginning of November, I opened the Desert Sun and turned to the crossword page, pen poised and looked at the puzzle before me. I just stared at it for several minutes, not moving. Then I refolded he paper, put the pen away and left the room. The first time in almost 60 years. An un-done crossword puzzle.

Since that day, I have not touched a single puzzle. I tried. I just could not do it.

It reminded me of that scene in the movie, “Forrest Gump.” He had been running a back and forth across America until one day, in the middle of no-where, he just stopped. When his little group of devotees asked what was wrong, he said he just didn’t want to run any more.

I just don’t want to do crossword puzzles anymore. Strange. Now I am growing a little grey beard instead. Is this what growing old does to you?

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